By clinical definition, a person is obese when he or she is thirty or more pounds over his or her ideal weight. Simply being overweight is characterized by being a few pounds to up to thirty pounds over his or her ideal weight. Of course, a well-trained muscular person might be incorrectly considered overweight because muscle tissue is more dense and heavy than fat tissue. Therefore, accurate assessments should calculate fat-to-muscle or hip-to-waist ratios. From a practical standpoint, a look in the mirror can make much of the testing unnecessary. Most people who are overweight or obese know that they are, though they might want to deny the obvious.
Overweight and obesity usually are diseases of overeating, although metabolic factors affect some people. The traditional view is that people gain weight when they consume more calories than they burn. This is partly true because many people are not as physically active as their ancestors, but it fails to explain everything.
Often ignored is that diet can serve to exacerbate or moderate a preexisting metabolic disorder. In addition, the source of calories is at least as important as the overall quantity of calories. That is because protein is far less likely than carbohydrate to be stored as fat. In general, high-sugar and high-carbohydrate foods trigger a stronger insulin response, compared with protein-rich foods, and insulin helps promote the accumulation of body fat. High-sugar and high-carbohydrate foods also tend to be short on fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals that either buffer the absorption of carbohydrates or aid in the body's metabolism of them.
Several animal studies have found that some dietary fats are more likely than others to become body fat. For example, some research shows that consumption of monounsaturated fat results in less body fat than does saturated fat, even when both provide the same number of calories. Similarly, evidence suggests that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, calorie for calorie, might result in relatively less body fat.
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